In a way I don't blame Giant fans for reacting irrationally after watching their championship team capsize and completely tank this year.
Those of us who reveled in winning the 2010 and 2012 World Series are finding it hard to adjust to shuffling through bumtown in a pair of tattered orange sneakers. While the Los Angeles Dodgers are soaring and have only one big problem to solve: which champagne to pop when they clinch the 2013 NL West.
In the words of Danny Glover from the film "Silverado", "That ain't right."
Which explains the current psycho-chatter heard on local Giants sport talk radio, wherein numerous callers are offering strangled variations on the following statements:
> "Hey, anyone can see Brett Pill is a really good hitter why don't the Giants give him a shot to take over left field or first base... ?"
> "You know, with Ryan Vogelsong coming back strong and Lincecum doing so well, this team looks good for a run in 2014."
> "Why did we ever trade Nate Schierholtz? He's one of the best hitters in the National League. Is there any way we can get him back?"
At some point the smarter psychologists at Johns Hopkins University will review the audio tapes and publish their findings. For now, the rest of us should find a bracing adult beverage, put on our thinking caps, and work our way through the following points.
Which, it turns out, are kind of important:
1. Age will start being a problem in 2014 for the San Francisco Giants. Angel Pagan will be 32, Jeremy Affeldt will be 35, Marco Scutaro 38, Ryan Vogelsong 37, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum will turn 30, Javier Lopez 37, Hunter Pence and Sergio Romo 31.
Performance inevitably declines and players become more susceptible to injury after the age of 30; and while other factors are also in play, age and MLB performance have been measurable for years.
This 2010 article in Baseball Prospectus talks about MLB players and their "prime years".
2. The Giants front office is seriously considering moving Pagan to left field next season, and trying to sign (or trade for) a front line center fielder/lead off man. The odd thing is, right now Pagan's narrow skill set offers more value in center field. Putting him in left comes close to repeating the team's biggest 2012 blunder-- the non-run producing Andres Torres/Gregor Blanco platoon in left field. (But I have learned to never underestimate Pagan's abilities and drive.)
3. While fans are wondering why the Giants traded Nate Schierholtz in 2012 (quick reminder: it was to get a productive right fielder, Hunter Pence, from the Phillies so the Giants could make the 2012 post season), they should be focusing on several more important issues:
> starting second baseman Marco Scutaro will likely be shut down for most of the rest of this season because of a back problem. Add to that the 94 MPH fastball that crushed his little finger on June 11th and you have to wonder about 2nd base in 2014 and beyond.
> Pablo Sandoval's Rollercoaster Diet continues. Panda's conditioning ups and downs each season have cost the team run production and some defense at third. How much longer will the organization continue to take this ride?
> The celebrated San Francisco starting rotation is down to two quality pitchers -- Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain. The team needs to have at least three quality starters to compete in 2014. So even if they exercise Vogelsong's $6.5 million option and re-sign Lincecum there's a big hole in the rotation that only a major trade or free agent signing will fill.
4. The 2014 bullpen needs to be rebuilt, almost from scratch.
Manager Bruce Bochy and General Manager Brian Sabean are known for emphasizing the importance of having an outstanding bullpen. But they badly fumbled that ball in 2013.
Instead of starting the season with an intact pen, Bochy and Sabean crossed their fingers hoping the injured Santiago Casilla would get back in time to support closer Sergio Romo.
The bullpen was already in decline when Vogelsong fractured his little finger in May and Sabean decided not to trade for another starter. Instead long man Chad Gaudin was moved into the starting rotation. The bullpen then began to really give up runs and new starter Gaudin was injured by a line drive. His overuse may have led to his current status on the DL with a carpal tunnel wrist injury.
5. As I noted in the "Comments" section a few blogs back, Nate Schierholtz hasn't magically turned into a great hitter this year. What he did was get signed by the Chicago Cubs and any hitter playing half their games in Wrigley Field will see their OPS and BA go up. Even Schierholtz.
By moving to the NL Central, Schierholtz also gets to play another 18 games in two of baseball's other best hitters' parks-- 4th best Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati and 9th best Miller Park in Milwaukee.
At home this season, Schierholtz is hitting .285 with a .870 OPS. But on the road (back in the real world) Schierholtz is hitting .249 and his OPS is almost 100 points lower at .771. Which is much closer to his 7 year career BA of .269 and OPS of .747.
So, no, Nate Schierholtz hasn’t miraculously become a better hitter in 2013. He just got luckier.
Next: we crawl out from under the bus and take a cold hard look at 2014, position by position. Hold on to your hats, it's going to be a bumpy ride...